The primary issue to me is applying the text to ask about the (present) existence or non-existence of a metaphysical construct/place (Hades). That is off topic here. Asking what the original audience would have thought or trying to determine authorial intent would all be fine—but asking about whether or not Hades exists will derail this into theological and metaphysical discourse rather than textual study as defined in our scope.
It may be helpful to clarify some distinctions that can sometimes be subtle.
There was some discussion about the edit to this post and it was suggested to instead ask,
What textual/contextual indications do we have to determine whether Hades is literal or figurative?
However, the argument was made that asking in this manner is intended "to ask for textual and contextual indications to help discern whether a word is literal or figurative." While the intent here is correct (to ask about the meaning of a word), the way the question is communicated is equally as important as the intention of the OP to ensure the question is properly understood by those desiring to answer it (and on topic).
The field of linguistics has shown us that words are symbols that stand for (or suggest) ideas, beliefs, actions, material entities, etc. If someone asks, "Is Hades real?" No one will interpret that as "Is the word itself real?" but will instead discuss the referent the word symbolizes.
Therefore asking about a word will almost always be understood as asking about what the word symbolizes. If this is not the OP's intention, this needs to be clearly communicated.
An example dialogue will be helpful. The dialogue is intentionally simplistic but illustrates the point well:
Customer: "Can I have fries with that?"
Cashier: "Sure, here is the word."
Customer: "No, I meant I actually want fries. To eat."
Cashier: "Oh sorry! I thought you were just asking about the word itself, not the actual little sticks of potatoes to which it refers!"
This is a ridiculous exchange which is highly unlikely to ever occur. However, being able to see a simple example may help shed light on more complex examples. If you're asking about a word but not about the referent to which it may refer, this requires careful communication.
What Can Be Asked
Let me close with some examples from my perspective:
"Is Hades literal or figurative in Luke 16:19-31?" — While this is based on a text, the question primarily asks a Truth question, i.e. whether or not the place/construct referred to as Hades is real or not? This type of question does not belong here as it seeks to apply the Biblical text.
"What textual or contextual indications and hermeneutic considerations would enable folks to discern whether Hades is literal or figurative in Luke 16:19-31?" — Adding lots of terminology doesn't really clarify anything here (just like asking for an 'exegetical interpretation' or a 'hermeneutics consideration' which are equally unclear). The main question is still about "whether Hades is literal or figurative."
"Did the author/interlocutor in Luke 16:19-31 intend for Hades to be understood literally or figuratively?" — The question is no longer about absolute Truth, but rather about authorial intent, which is a good fit here as it can be answered with historical and linguistic information.
"How would the original audience of Luke 16:19-31 have understood Hades, as a figurative construct of folklore or as a literal place?" — This is good because it focuses on the historical context of the passage and its meaning within that context. Linguistic/philological information about the idea of Hades itself would also be helpful in an answer to this question.
"What did the word Hades (Ἅιδης/ᾍδης) used in Luke 16:19-31 refer to in first-century Greek?" — This is a linguistic question related to a Biblical text and is thus a good fit here.
Is This Thinking Accurate?
Some quotes from other meta posts that should be taken into account:
- "What makes us different from those sites is that here, our focus is primarily on the process of hermeneutical analysis, not the final output of that process. This distinction is significant and critical for users of this site to understand, but in practice the degrees of implementation are often subtle." (Source)
- "This is a university, not a church/synagogue. We are interested in questions about Biblical texts and the process of translating and interpreting them, not absolute truth(s)." (Source)
- "Religious, theological/doctrinal, ethical [&] liturgical aspects need to be handled as facets of the biblical texts studied by participants of BH.SE in historical, linguistic, and literary terms, and not as aspects of personal conviction, or the belief and praxis of historic and contemporary faith communities." (Source)
This discussion also raised another great question: "Can we define what it means to apply the text?"
I've made my stance and reasoning clear in the on/off topic commentary above. I'm interested in hearing other perspectives.